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Pawlenty on the ticket? Two presidential thinkers assess his chances

Larry Jacobs and Joel Goldstein differ on the outlook for Tim Pawlenty as VP candidate.

Tim Pawlenty attending a Mitt Romney ice cream social in Milford, N.H., last Friday.

As Devin Henry noted this morning, Politico wrote a very excited piece about Tim Pawlenty’s “soaring” prospects for being chosen as Mitt Romney’s running-mate.

U of M political scientist Larry Jacobs threw tepid water on the rumor, saying that while TPaw is “a workhorse for the Romney campaign,” and is  “running hard for the VP slot” and is “getting a serious look,”  but in the end, Pawlenty is much more likely to end up in the Romney cabinet than on the Repub ticket.

“The key fact to keep in mind,” Jacobs told me, is that running-mates “generally make no significant positive difference to the electoral fortunes of the presidential candidate. They are picked in the contemporary era for governing purposes and compatibility with the top guy.

“TPaw gets points for compatibility,” Jacobs said, “but adds nothing on governing side — he’s got the same background as Romney,” meaning they are both former governor’s but neither has Washington experience.

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Said Jacobs:  “My strong hunch is that Romney will go with someone closer to the Rob Portman profile — knows DC well and has proven a skill at staying in background while sharing Romney’s cognitive style. If Romney wins, TPaw will get a cabinet post.”

When I recently covered a TPaw talk at the Humphrey school, he tried to pour much-colder-then-tepid water on the veep talk, telling a gaggle of journalists:

“I’m going to take my name off the list, so if … you’re a journalist, an observer, remove my name from the list.”

Ha ha. For various reasons, the 10 or 20 (or is it 100?) politicos whose names pass through the rumor mill have decided, as a group, that when asked about their standing in the veepstakes they will disparage their interest and their chances without quite making a Shermanesque statement that would embarrass them on the day they are named as the running-mate. “Take my name of the list” is closer to Shermanesque than the usual “I’m flattered to be considered but I’m happy with my job as …,” but if the day arrives, you’ll find it is riddled with loopholes.

Also, if you missed it and want a serious introduction to the veepstakes, full of myth-busting, read Joel Goldstein’s piece in “Community Voices.” He’s a top scholar, writer and thinker on all things vice presidential, but he takes all the fun out of overreacting to the daily rumors.

UPDATE: Goldstein sees TPaw as reasonably likely

As soon as I posted the thoughts above from Jacobs, Goldstein got back to me on the same topic, and sees the TPaw-for-veep possibility as reasonably likely. Here’s Goldstein’s take:

I think Gov. Pawlenty is likely to be one of the few possible running mates Gov. Romney examines most closely and he may wind up on the ticket depending on which needs weigh most heavily with Romney.

I suspect Romney has essentially eliminated the neophytes who had demographic (Fla. Sen. Marco Rubio, N.H. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley, Nev. Gov. Brian Sandoval, New Mex. Gov. Susana Martinez) or big or swing state (Rubio, Va. Gov. Bob McDonnell) appeal and is focused on a smaller group who appear to be more plausible national figures by virtue of prior experience, past presidential or VP candidacies or mentions (e.g. Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, Pawlenty, House Budget Chair Paul Ryan of Wisc., Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, S.D. Sen. John Thune).

Although Portman has some clear attributes (a reputation for being able, experience in national government, and he’s from Ohio) he is thought to be bland, was in the George W. Bush administration, and has an affluent and elite pedigree.  The latter two factors — the Bush association and elite pedigree — pose problems for Romney since he wants voters to think that our economic problems began on Obama’s watch and he’s vulnerable to the perception that his economic circumstances are so different from those most people face that he really doesn’t get it.

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Pawlenty doesn’t have this baggage.  He wasn’t part of the Bush administration (in fact, didn’t Cheney ask him not to run for the Senate to leave the way clear for Coleman?).  More importantly, he’s from a Bidenesque background with a sympathetic narrative. Whereas Romney has trouble with Joe Six Pack, Pawlenty presumably can relate.  Moreover, he, like Portman, is from the Midwest, where many of the swing states are, especially Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, but also blue leaning Minnesota and Michigan and red leaning Indiana and Missouri.  If Romney wants to run an anti D.C. campaign, Pawlenty reinforces that message (whereas Portman, Ryan, Thune don’t). 

Pawlenty may have some appeal to Christian Evangelicals, too.  Finally, and importantly, Pawlenty seems ready and willing to play the attack person for Romney.

Of course, Pawlenty has some downside, too.  Although runners up (LBJ, George H.W. Bush, John Edwards) sometimes are chosen, also rans usually are not, except Biden (and he ran a much better race in 2008 against a much stronger field than did Pawlenty).  Pawlenty’s abysmal presidential race will raise some cautions, although running for VP is quite different from running for president. 

Choosing Pawlenty leaves the ticket without any national security credential; we haven’t had a Governor-Governor ticket since 1948.  Since then six governors (Adlai Stevenson, twice, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush) have chosen D.C. insiders.

Is Pawlenty really ready for the national stage? And although he won in Minnesota, a blue state, both times in three way races and the second time very narrowly.

If he’s chosen, his ‘Obamneycare’ reference and then unwillingness to stand by it will surface as will his record as governor re: budget, taxes, etc.  Most of this will get flushed out now that Politico etc. have deemed him a serious possibility.  If the GOP tax cutters or others find him unpalatable, they will weigh in.